Discover the 9 Most Dangerous Places in California

Written by Thomas Godwin
Updated: August 17, 2023
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As the third largest state in the U.S., a list of the most dangerous places in California is understandable. As a huge state, California is full of big cities, some with less than reputable crime rates. California is also home to several eco-regions, one of which often ranks as the hottest place on the planet.

While there’s certainly a significant disparity between deaths from environmental exposure in California’s Death Valley and deaths from violent crime in some of California’s inner cities, we thought it best to include a bit of both.

9 Most Dangerous Places in California
Crime isn’t the only danger factor in this dangerous list.

California is easily one of the most beautiful states in the country, known for a wide variety of eco-regions. However, the good is often balanced with the bad. With more big cities than all the other states, along with some of the most inhospitable natural environments in the country, here are some of the most dangerous places in California, in no particular order.

1. Stockton

1. Stockton

Hotel in Stockton, California

©Michael Aivaliotis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Located in California’s central valley, Stockton has a reputation as a black spot in terms of crime throughout the state. With a population of over 320,000 people, Stockton has a crime rate of 12.62 per 1,000 citizens.

In 2021, over 9,000 instances of property crimes were reported, making it the largest majority of crimes committed within the San Joaquin County area. Annually, violent crime within the Stockton area is higher than the national average, with over 30 homicides, nearly 200 rapes, over a thousand robberies, and thousands of aggravated assaults.

Stockton, as a city, filed for bankruptcy back in 2012. So it’s safe to say that the management of the city is not very great. With violent crime and property crime continuing to dominate Stockton’s profile, Spolin Law ranked the city as the 11th worst in the state.

2. Oakland

2. Oakland

Oakland, California

©Basil D Soufi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Oakland has long maintained its status as one of the most dangerous cities in California. It has a violent crime rate of over 1,200 per 100k people. That’s down a little bit from a violent crime rate of 1,453 per 100k in 2021, but it places the state high in the ‘dangerous cities’ pecking order.

Oakland has a population north of 440,000 people and is an important trading partner with San Fransisco. Despite its well-established history of high crime, the automotive and construction industries are both growing commodities.

It’s estimated that 1 out of every 15 people will experience property crime and 1 out of every 77 will experience violent crime throughout the Oakland area. It’s a shame really, especially since Oakland is currently undergoing a revitalization boom and is a more affordable housing option over the likes of San Fransisco and areas surrounding Silicon Valley.

3. San Bernardino

3. San Bernardino

San Bernardino, California

©Adrian Michael, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

San Bernardino is home to a crime rate that’s triple the national average. It’s highly unfortunate and disappointing, considering the city is in such a beautiful location, nestled in the shadow of the San Bernardino Mountains, and features a balmy, Mediterranean climate.

The city hosts a population of roughly 220,000 people and 1 in every 86 will experience violent crime within the area. One of the things that most often directly correlates with high crime is high poverty. San Bernardino is familiar with the latter as well, with a 26% poverty rate.

That’s a little more than 1 in every 4 people who live in poverty. Most of the cities on this list and others feature high property crime rates. However, San Bernardino is the exception to the rule. The city still has a high property crime rate but it’s lower than others. Instead, violent crimes throughout the city are on the rise.

4. Death Valley

4. Death Valley

Death Valley

©Katrina Brown/Shutterstock.com

In a departure from the norm of pointing out dangerous cities, Death Valley is easily one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet. It has an annual temperature average of 110°F. Of course, the number of people who die in Death Valley can’t hold a candle to those who die in big cities. National parks are often thought of as highly safe areas.

But, if you took away the park rangers, medical facilities, and technology of the modern day, moving through Death Valley would probably be a death sentence to most people. This is especially true if they lacked sufficient water and supplies while traversing the cracked, inhospitable terrain.

Even today, Death Valley takes its toll, with 3.4 deaths per million visitors and 41 deaths from 2010 to 2020. On the bright side, only a few of those deaths are related to the brutal but eerily beautiful environment. Most occur in car accidents throughout the park. Still, it’s hard to imagine crossing Death Valley on foot, without the conveniences and accommodations of modern technology.

5. Mount San Antonio

5. Mount San Antonio

Mount San Antonio or Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles California.

©nyker/Shutterstock.com

Sticking with the theme of the most dangerous places in California from a natural perspective, Mount San Antonio makes our list next. Dozens of hikers are rescued from this brutal climbing and hiking zone each year. Would-be climbers are attracted to the brutal, 11-mile hiking stretch that crosses brutal terrain and an inhospitable climbing environment.

It’s said that the climb, from start to finish, for the healthiest of hikers and mountaineers, is roughly 7 hours. Rescued hikers are often lost in the wilderness, suffering from hypothermia, severely dehydrated, or have suffered a fall while climbing.

Even worse, not everyone is lucky enough to get out alive. Hikers who die trying to make the trek are usually victims of a long fall or hypothermia. Once hypothermia sets in, hikers tend to curl up or lay down, with the inevitable just a matter of time.

6. Barstow

6. Barstow

©Amin Eshaiker, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Barstow is the very meaning of ‘guilt by association’ since it’s located just outside of San Bernardino. That association has an even more detrimental effect on Barstow, with a crime rate that’s 123% higher than the national average.

Barstow is a lot smaller than San Bernardino as well, which makes the crime rate seem that much more prevalent. With a population just north of 25,000, Bartsow’s residents experience crime throughout the city at a rate of 10.8 per 1,000 and property crimes at a rate of 36.6 per 1,000.

Also, like San Bernardino, there is a direct correlation between high crime rates and poverty. More than 35% of the population in Barstow is below the national poverty rate. The city also ranks very poorly in terms of educational standards.

7. Emeryville

7. Emeryville

Emeryville, California

©Karthikeyanpandian, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Despite its tiny population of under 13,000, Emeryville is one of the most dangerous places in California and often finds itself in the #1 spot, statewide and nationally. Most people probably haven’t even heard of Emeryville. Unfortunately, 1 in every 5 who live there will be a victim of property crime.

For every 1,000 crimes that take place in Emeryville, 211.9 of them are property crimes, usually in the form of larceny. Vehicle theft also tops the list. As a resident of Emeryville, there is a 1 in 15 chance of becoming the victim of a violent crime. For small-town life, that’s pretty incredible.

It doesn’t help that Emeryville is essentially an extension of Oakland. It would count as a suburb in most places, though Oakland would seemingly prefer to forget Emeryville altogether. Meth is a major part of the drug trade in Emeryville as well, with a high percentage of poverty exacerbating an already dangerous environment.

8. The Cecil Hotel

8. The Cecil Hotel

Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, California

©Jim Winstead, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

We thought of going with Los Angeles in this spot but where’s the fun in that? Why not go with one of the most infamous hotels in Los Angeles and US history? The Cecil Hotel is the source of 16 deaths since its construction in 1924.

It hosted one of the most notorious serial killers in California history – Richard ‘Night Stalker’ Ramirez and is home to one of the most viral and mysterious deaths in the history of the internet (Elisa Lam). The Cecil Hotel closed for a time before eventually reopening in late 2021 as a low-income living facility.

According to Esquire, the Cecil Hotel is the ‘Hotel of Death.’ They have a good reason for doing so. Though only 16 deaths are officially listed, the hotel is known for strange and ghastly circumstances, along with suicidal tendencies amongst the hotel’s tenants.

9. Richmond (The Iron Triangle)

9. Richmond (The Iron Triangle)

New Hotel in Richmond, California

©Sanfranman59, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Last but not least on our ‘most dangerous places in California’ list, we arrive at Richmond. Specifically, central Richmond, which also carries the infamous nickname, “The Iron Triangle.” Surrounding cities and neighborhoods often refer to the Iron Triangle as a ‘warzone.’

It’s the area of Richmond where the highest crime rates occur. That’s not to say that Richmond’s surrounding areas are completely safe, just that central Richmond is a place to stay well away from. Violent crime occurs at a rate of 1 in every 109 people, while property crimes occur at a rate of 1 in 28.

On the bright side, Richmond is attempting to derail its reputation and make a turn for the better. The area recently completed the construction of a performance arts center and other neighborhood activities, driving up real estate values and pressing the seedier elements out and away from the city.

All Things Considered

There you have it, nine of the most dangerous places in California. Since the title included ‘places’ rather than ‘cities,’ we strove for a little variety on this one. After all, human beings can be dangerous but nature is often just as unpredictable, sometimes even more so.

Then there are places like the Cecil Hotel, which toss out the entire idea of sensible and logical analysis. Whether you’re visiting California or looking for a new home, always do your homework and, as always, stay safe!

Summary of the 9 Most Dangerous Places in California

Dangerous PlaceReason for Danger
1StocktonHigh crime rate
2OaklandHigh crime rate
3San BernardinoHigh crime rate
4Death ValleyOne of the most inhospitable climates on Earth
5Mount San AntonioMany hikers don’t survive the grueling climb to the top
6BarstowHigh crime rate
7 EmeryvilleHigh crime rate
8The Cecil Hotel16 recorded deaths and many reports of suicidal thoughts and ghastly occurances
9Richmond (The Iron Triangle)High crime rate

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/tupungato


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About the Author

Thomas is a freelance writer with an affinity for the great outdoors and Doberman Pinschers. When he's not sitting behind the computer, pounding out stories on black bears and reindeer, he's spending time with his family, two Dobermans (Ares and Athena), and a Ragdoll cat named Heimdal. He also tends his Appleyard Ducks and a variety of overly curious and occasionally vexatious chickens.

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